Fawcett expands repertoire with Roots

Marleen Fawcett, on the cover of her new CD, "Roots."

Nelson Zandbergen
Nation Valley News

MOUNTAIN —  Marleen Fawcett is breaking some new ground — and expanding her audience’s horizons — with her third album in 20 years.

As the name suggests, Roots has the local singer delving into a musical genre she concedes is a surprise to some longtime fans. The 50-something grandmother of two from Mountain covers rootsy numbers infused with R&B, jazz and folk, often accompanied by a horn section, on the new effort. It’s a departure from the classic-rock, country and gospel for which she’s known.

“I know that people are questioning, I already know that,” Fawcett says earlier this month, sitting on the back porch of the rural home she shares with husband Greg.  “Why did she did do this music? Because these songs are fairly obscure …”

Almost defensively, she adds, “But you know, if you Google these songs and you listen to them, you have no idea of the following … the people that love roots music.”  

Obscurity can be a relative thing. Bob Dylan, Robbie Robertson, and Van Morrison are among the writers of the 11 tracks on Fawcett’s new work.

She fell in love with the music when researching material for Roots, she says. But it was also a reacquaintance. Growing up on her late parents’ dairy farm next door, she remembers enjoying roots-style tunes emanating from a transistor radio in the barn.

She enthuses: “This music is where country and blues and bluegrass and folk music all started melting together, and they called it roots or Americana back in the day.”

Many of the tracks on Roots “are really good-time songs,” she says. “Let the Good Times Roll, Make the World a Better Place — now there’s a very cool song by a guy called Dr. John in Louisiana.… Pressing On is an incredible gospel song and it’s a Dylan song.”

Fawcett began refocusing on her music career about two and a half years ago, after a painful degenerative wrist problem effectively ended her many years of service with Canada Post. “You can make lemonade, or you can live in that lemon. It just came to me that I have to sing. My voice is great, and I’m still at an age where I can really do this. And life is not slowing down,” she says. It’s the latest reinvention for the Christian singer, who’s been picking up gigs as a one-woman gospel show when not performing country and classic rock (as well as her latest music) at larger fair venues. At the bigger shows, she’s accompanied by Mountain Breeze, her “fantastic” regular backup band. She played at Rideau Carleton Raceway recently. “I got welcomed back into a circuit of music, and I’m grateful for that,” she says.

It was at recent live shows that people began asking her if she had a new CD to sell, spurring Fawcett’s return to the studio earlier this year.

Her first eponymously named album was released two decades ago and featured original material co-written with Laurie LaPorte-Piticco. Marleen Fawcett stemmed from the singer’s success at two singer-songwriter contests at Wayne Rostad’s Gatineau Clog event. She wound up with a single, Just Leave Me Alone, on a then-country music station’s compilation album, which led to some airplay at the time. “I just about died,” she happily recalls of hearing the song on the radio for the first time.

Then she won another Ottawa contest and got the opportunity to sing at the Nashville Palace stage in Nashville. Unfortunately, the Nashville musicians on scene never received an advance recording of her own music from contest organizers back in Canada, so she quickly wound up singing a Patsy Cline standard. Laughing now, she recalls turning down an invitation to watch Vince Gill’s show from backstage at the Grand Ole Opry on the same evening in order to make that star-crossed Palace date.

Family duties and financial concerns — shooting an expensive video would have been the next step — eventually intervened and Fawcett instead settled into life as a young mother and rural route mail carrier.

She maintained a local singing presence, releasing Thank God It’s Christmas several years ago. That album also broke the mold by its inclusion of five gospel tracks on a Christmas album. But it wound up selling 950 copies, raising for $4,000 for charity, she proudly points out.

Appearing very comfortable with where she stands today, Fawcett says she only wants to share her voice, variously describing herself as “not on music row, let me tell you” and “but a fly on the map of music.”

She’s excited by Roots and impressed with the high quality of the recording done at StudioNINE.ca, owned by Dave Poulin in Navan. Several top-notch studio musicians from the Ottawa area, including Poulin himself, contributed to the resulting sound. Among them were a group of young horn players, she says. “because in roots music you always had a horn section.”

Fawcett adds the album is “not digitally bent in any way.” To the contrary, she took inspiration from the impromptu flavour of The Band’s The Last Waltz. “When we did the harmonies, we changed spots, sang harmonies looking at each other. It was all done very ‘real people,’ ‘real everything.’”

Recording started in January and wrapped up in May.

Five hundred copies of Roots are currently available on CD for $10 apiece. And in a first for Fawcett, it’s also available online at CDbaby.com. Her first few copies were actually sold online, she says, marvelling at today’s technological opportunities to market music (though she’s not a fan of tooling around on computers).

Eventually, the new tracks will make their way to iTunes as well.

Buy hard copies on CD at Loughlin’s store in Hallville, Winchester Pharmacy, the Evape store in Kemptville, and Sherry’s Kitchen in Williamsburg and Heckston.

In the meantime, she looks forward to taking part in a special four-day camping music retreat in Woodstock, NY, later this month. No less than Janis Joplin’s photographer and two members of The Band are supposed to attend, says Fawcett.  “It’s one for the bucket list.”

You can also catch Fawcett and her own band on the big stage at Richmond Fair, Sept. 17, 2-5 p.m.

Marleen Fawcett at home. Zandbergen photo, Nation Valley News

Marleen Fawcett at home.
Zandbergen photo, Nation Valley News

 

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